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POETS, COURTESANS, AND MONKS             135

Going into the inner temple, they saw the image o£ the Goddess of
Mercy holding a rosary in her hand,

"Since the Goddess of Mercy is a buddha herself, what is she doing
"there telling the beads?" asked Su Tungpo.

"Oh," replied Foyin. "she is only praying to buddha like all the
others."

"But which buddha?" asked Su Tungpo again.

"Why, the buddha, the Goddess of Mercy herself."

"Now what's the meaning of that? She is the Goddess of Mercy;
why does she pray to herself?"

"Well," said Foyin, "you know it's always troublesome to beg from
others—it is always easier to depend on oneself."*

They saw then a Buddhist prayer-book lying open on the altar. Su
Tungpo found that a prayer read thus:

"A curse upon all poisons!
By the help of the Goddess of Mercy,
May those who use poison on others
Take the poison themselves."

"This is utterly unreasonable/' said Su Tungpo. "Buddha is kind.
How can she be expected to avert trouble from one person in order
to give it to another? If that is so, then Buddha is not Love."

Asking permission to have the prayer corrected, he took up a brush
and crossed out some of the lines to make it read:

"A curse upon all poisons!
By the help of the Goddess of Mercy,
May both the users of poison
And the intended victims be spared."

Many of the stories of clever repartee between Su Tungpo and Foyin
were based on puns and are untranslatable. There is, however, the
following.

The word "bird" had a dirty meaning in Chinese slang, and Su
^Tungpo thought to make fun of his friend with it. "The ancient
poets," said Su Tungpo, "often placed mm'kj opposite birds in a
couplet. For instance, there is a couplet: 'Hearing a bird pecking at a
tree, I thought it was a monl^ knocking at the door/ Again, another
couplet says: 'Birds perch on trees beside the pond, and a mon\ knocks
at the gate under the moon.' I always admire the wisdom of the ancient
poets in placing monks against birds."

"That is why," said Foyin, "I, as a monk, am sitting opposite you."

* The original word chin means both "to beg" and "to depend/'